First, I read this article in the Army Times. Of course, I then had to find out what Captain Estrada had said which led me to this article in the Washington Post. In the course of looking for Captain Estrada’s article I also found an editorial reply of sorts from the Washington Post.
It all alludes to a very important aspect of what it is that Civil Affairs Specials do. As someone who has spent a career in cross-cultural communication it is apparent to me that a key component that is missing is an understanding of culture, its variances and the nuances of cross-cultural communication and interaction. This is actually something I’ve been concerned about for a while now. Will the American handler be able to accept the Iraqi interpretation of democracy? Because there is no way that democracy in Iraq will look like anything in America.
There was an interesting article recently in Foreign Affairs(this is a preview only, the full article can be purchased). The article talked about the transition in Russia from communism to capitalistic democracy. The article talks about how the West was a lot more comfortable with Boris Yeltsin capitalism and democracy than they are with Putin’s. The article makes the point that Putin’s government is, at least for now, democracy Russian style.
It will be the same in Iraq. Much as the American public — and maybe the current administration — would love to have instant democracy to which you just add people, no such thing exists. The Iraqi people are accustom to living under Saddam Hussein. They know nothing of free elections, representative government, etc. This is a society that, a little over a year ago had an election in which there was only one name on the ballot and 99.?% of the people cast a ballot for Saddam. The West found this laughable. What do the Iraqis think about it? I don’t know but I think it is pretty important to find out. Someone needs to have a clear understanding of what Iraqis think is coming. What do Iraqis think democracy is?
Capt. Estrada’s article worries me. The Army’s reaction to Capt. Estrada’s article worries me as well. If we are to involve ourselves in the business of nation building, which is really what we’re involved in here in Iraq, we really need to understand the mechanics of it. If we set out to build little Americas throughout the world we are surely destined to fail. Those in power will tell you with a chuckle, of course we’re not trying to build a little America in South West Asia. The problem is that while they know they can’t build a little America they also don’t know how to go about building an Iraqi democracy either. And there in lies the problem because that is the task we have in front of us.